I mean to raise you from your graves - Fifth Sunday in Lent (A)

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"I am now going to open your graves; I mean to raise you from your graves, my people". We heard in the first reading today the Word from God addressed to the People of Israel through the prophet Ezekiel. Whenever I hear this prophecy my heart is stirred. It is bold and consoling promise. The Lord will raise up his people.

The People of Israel are God's People. A refrain runs throughout the Old Testament: I am your God and you will be my people. God has made a choice. He has chosen this people as his own people. Now, these promises belong to the Church, the new People of God. Thus what the Lord says through the prophet Ezekiel are now being said to the Church. We can listen to these words and see them as apply to ourselves. That is why I find these words so consoling, filling me with hope and confidence.

The Lord says, "And I shall put my spirit in you, and you will live". The reference is not so much a promise of eternal life, though this meaning is not eliminated, but it is a promise that the Lord intends to bring about the spiritual regeneration of His People. What is important to note is that this regeneration is not just for individuals but for the people as a whole. God will come to the aid of His People. He will pour out the power of his Spirit as the means by which his people will be spiritually raised up.

This is an important promise for us believers today. We are not being left to struggle by ourselves. We are not simply at the mercy of the forces in our society that are crippling the Church. Strong as they are, God and his power is greater.

What these words reveal is that God wants to empower the Church through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that released the apostles from their fear and enabled the bold proclamation of St Peter. With the conversions that day the church was born. The Church was born through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, just as Christ came amongst us by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

And so the Spirit has accompanied the Church throughout its history. In many and varied and often surprising ways the Spirit has moved, raising up saints and inspiring spiritual movements of various kinds. The history of the Church is testimony that the Spirit has been at work. So it continues in our time.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the beginnings of the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. On the eve of Pentecost in a few months time, the Holy Father will preside over a gathering in Rome to mark this anniversary. Hundreds of thousands will be there. The Charismatic Renewal in all its rich varieties of expression will celebrate this extraordinary grace which has been given to the Church in our time. This grace continues to a vital means for the spiritual renewal of the Church. It is at the heart of a new missionary thrust expressed in new expressions of evangelisation. The Alpha program currently be conducted in the parish is one such expression. 

"I will put my Spirit in you and you will live", says the Lord. The Spirit is the Spirit that gives life, inner life, spiritual life. The Spirit activates and animates the soul. Faith becomes a fire burning in the heart. A thirst for God is quickened as the soul yearns for a deeper personal union with God. God's holy Word in Sacred Scripture becomes dynamic, speaking to our spirit. We hear the voice of God speaking to us in the depths of our being. Joy, peace, kindness, the fruits of the Spirit, abides in our soul. The Spirit changes everything.

The Lord called Lazarus back from the dead. The risen Lord calls us out of our spiritual and moral stupor. He pours the Holy Spirit into our hearts. St Paul gives testimony to this in the second reading today. Let us listen again to St Paul. We can hear him speaking to each one of us.

People who are interested only in unspiritual things can never be pleasing to God. Your interests, however, are not in the unspiritual, but in the spiritual, since the Spirit of God has made his home in you. In fact, unless you possessed the Spirit of Christ you would not belong to him. Though your body may be dead it is because of sin, but if Christ is in you then your spirit is life itself because you have been justified; and if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your own mortal bodies through his Spirit living in you.

This is the glory of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit lives in us. He is our true principle of life.

The Lord called Lazarus back to life. The Lord calls us back to life. He does this by empowering us with his Holy Spirit. However, it is not just given to us as individuals, for our own benefit. It is for the Church, it is for all God's people. The Lord promises: "I mean to raise you from your graves my people".

The Church now orients itself towards the coming commemoration of the passion and death and resurrection of our saviour. It is these events that enabled the Holy Spirit to be released. Let us approach the Paschal mystery with a deep appreciation of the fact that by his death we have been brought to life. We have been given the possibility of eternal life, and even now life is being poured into our souls by the Holy Spirit.   

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 2 April 2017